On rent day, the residents of Ashton Woods in Howard County filter into the apartment complex's spacious clubhouse to drop off checks and chat with the staff. All is calm and serene. The pool has yet to come to life, and the residents wander in to use the business center or sit in the lounge. Some of the younger residents snag cookies, offered daily along with coffee.
Tenants say it's a quiet place off the beaten path, near enough to commute, surrounded by other homes and just a few miles from shopping -- an ideal suburban lifestyle.
Ashton Woods in Howard County is spread out over 26 acres of land and features tennis courts, a sand volleyball court and a pool.
(Sarah Abruzzese For The Washington Post)
ASHTON WOODS (The Washington Post, Apr 9, 2005)
Ted Marinich, 62, has come in to make a few copies in the business center. He lives in one of the three-bedroom apartments with his wife, son and dog. They are at Ashton Woods temporarily because he and his son Tom, both software engineers, are working on contracts.
This is the second time Marinich has lived at Ashton Woods. He and his wife were there in the late 1990s.
"It's nice, and we've seen a lot" of apartment complexes, Marinich said. "We shop around; it's why we came back."
He said, "I like the kind of wooded area. It's nice to walk him [the dog, Jake] around, and it's nice and quiet."
There are "Fido stations" dispersed throughout the 26-acre complex to assist in keeping things clean. Because residents aren't allowed to grill in their apartments under Maryland law, there are barbecues. There is also a car-care center.
Dog owner Allen Chang, 25, also said he enjoys the quiet lifestyle the complex affords.
"It's a little tucked away," Chang said. "It's quiet and well kept."
Chang often uses the gym in the clubhouse, which residents can access 24 hours a day.
"There's no amenities fee, which is a plus," he said.
But he added that it would be nice if it was larger and had a few more machines.
Sarah Norman, the property manager for owner Stellar Advisors LLC, said she understands that the gym can get crowded but added that there aren't any plans to increase the size because all gyms have peak times.
"Just like any other gym, any other fitness facility, you may be there with other people," Norman said.
In warm weather there are more workout options outdoors: The complex has a tennis court, sand volleyball court and pool, and there are several parks nearby.
The complex is surrounded by other housing complexes, and a busy road is visible from some of the units, but the sound doesn't filter through the trees too much.
There are several shopping areas within a few miles of Ashton Woods. "Columbia, Maryland, is a planned community," Norman said. "Everything is broken up into residential villages and commercial villages. It's really nice: no billboards, no big gas signs polluting the visual air."
"You would definitely need a car" if you lived in Ashton Woods, she said, but added that there is a bus nearby, as well as a MARC train station about five miles away.
The Montague-Smiths take a MARC train to the University of Maryland, where they both work.
"We like the neighborhood, we love the schools and the area," said Kim Montague-Smith, 44. "My husband got a job at the university. From there, we worked our way to here."
Montague-Smith and her husband have lived in their three-bedroom apartment for a little more than a year, along with their son, Nate.
"We use the pool a lot in the summer; it's great," Montague-Smith said. "There are some people who live there and watch out for everyone, and there is a lifeguard."
There are lots of children living in the complex. They go sledding in the winter on a large hill and play outside together during nice weather, Montague-Smith said. A school bus picks up children outside her building to take them to school.
Everyone is friendly and welcoming, which makes a difference, said Carol Knox, 51. The kindergarten special education teacher, who has lived in three places in as many years, said there has been a marked difference among her residences.
"It's a safe feeling; it's hard to describe from the place I lived before," she said. "They weren't as friendly."
"It is a really pretty place to be," she said. "I love the decks." Many of the apartments come with decks and gas fireplaces.
The apartments are also quiet, Montague-Smith said. Although she occasionally hears a dog barking, she doesn't hear her son playing Nintendo in his bedroom when she is in the living room.
"If you've got to live in an apartment," she said, "I think they're really pretty."